What Would You Say to Someone Who Wants to Leave the Catholic Church?


interiorofchurchI would imagine that no one ever wants to see a loved one walk away from the Church. This scenario plays out more often than naught with the people I speak to on a daily basis. A day doesn’t go by without encountering someone who is Catholic but not practicing.

When I recently taught on this topic to a large capacity crowd who were anxiously waiting for the magic formula I asked them a basic question: How many of you know someone who has either left the Church or is considering leaving the Church?  To the surprise of everyone all hands were raised.

It’s a situation that has become all too prevalent for a myriad of reasons. One of the main reasons Catholics leave the Church is a continual disassociation from the Church or in other words, a loss of belonging in the Church.

St. John Paul II once said that conversion requires convincing of sin (CCC 1848) which in turn involves an active conscience and the ability to authentically distinguish right from wrong, grace versus sin. It was very apparent to me that the audience was deeply concerned about their loved ones who have left the Church and had an ardent desire to do something about it.

A point I stressed throughout the presentation was to not lose hope and fall into despair. There is no sense in joining the “misery loves company’ approach. Regardless of the reasons someone either leaves or is contemplating on leaving the Church it’s usually for the wrong reasons.

What Should You Say?

Many of us worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and drive our loved one further away from the Church. Thus the temptation might be to say nothing at all or just pray. From one perspective it shouldn’t matter because some have already left the Church in mind and spirit.

Cynicism set aside, honestly there is no way you can truly assess whether what you say will have a lasting impact or not. Your actions, however, can paint a different story. The key is that if you say or do something may it be reverent (1 Pt 3:15-17).

When talking with someone about the Church it’s important that your Christian actions speak louder than your words. Genuine discipleship goes a long way in communicating the faith to someone.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons people either leave or drift away is that they have no intimate relationship with the Church, especially the Church community. They don’t necessarily see themselves as part of God’s plan. At times it boils down to being religious without affirming God.

Leaving for the Wrong Reasons

A recent article at the Our Sunday Visitor Weekly highlighted a study conducted in the Diocese of Springfield, IL on why Catholics leave the Church. When the sample size data was collected, prominent reasons within the Diocese of Springfield were birth control, ordination of women, civil marriage after divorce, fertility treatments; same-sex marriage. It should come as no surprise that these reasons are related to core doctrinal teachings of the Church.

This statistic shows us how easily ignorance becomes doctrine. If the Diocese of Springfield is any indication of why Catholics leave the Church in general, then our efforts must be directed on clarifying any misconceptions of the faith through our visible and authentic witness of the Gospel.

One of the most striking reasons as to why Catholics tend to leave the Church was a loss of the sense of community, which led to people no longer believing in the Church, which in turn caused dissatisfaction with the Church as a whole.

Are these legitimate reasons for leaving the Church? Those that left think so. Regardless of the reasons this Diocesan study does reveal an underlying theme; “why can’t the Church give me what I want when I want it?” This “mecentric versus Christocentric” attitude is at the heart of the great diaspora of Catholics from the Church.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians presents the counterpoint of being part of the body of Christ where he reminds the people of Ephesus that they are no longer strangers and sojourners, but are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (2:9-22).

What’s the Next Step?

Pray! In particular pray that the person in question is open to God and begins to cooperate with Him. Jesus for example would call upon His disciples to prayer, almsgiving and fasting as the means to cooperate with God (Mt 6). This makes logical sense because these actions aim to draw us away from ourselves and towards God.

Intercessory prayer is by far one of the greatest spiritual weapons you can use for someone who has fallen away from the Church. The desire for God is naturally written in our human heart because it comes from God Himself. We must not forget that we are created for Him and are called to be in communion with Him. It’s an invitation to converse with God (CCC 27). And this is what anyone who is considering leaving the Church needs, a genuine invitation to stay home.


About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Evidence shows that most people’s real reason for not believing in God (avoidance of religious commitments or participation) is hidden behind a rationalisation and/or an act of dissembling.

    Therefore, in most cases, well-meaning people (naively) address the stated objection. This is not going to achieve anything, because the proposer of the objection has no vested interest in their own objection. It’s simply a plausible-sounding or socially-acceptable red-herring.

    So, for example, a teenager might claim they no-longer believe in God because a religious activity gets in the way of a sport or playing computer games.

    Admitting the real reason, therefore – that their real reason is completely based in narcissism or laziness – will invite moral censure, either of others or the subject themselves, and so shame and guilt must be avoided at all costs, hence the secondary justification, or rationalisation.

    By taking the bait of the red-herring, we can unwittingly become an object of derision because the sub-conscious guilt/shame of the ‘unbeliever’ is then projected onto us as being ‘unreasonable’ or irrational. So the more we try to reason with them, however gently, the more cynical and belligerent they become.

    The mistake is that people so often ‘spiritualise’, and therefore completely misread, what’s really taking place, but that’s why Ven. Fulton Sheen was able to discern what was really going on – the game being played out – and address it head-on, where others failed.

    • The two really aren’t opposed to each other. And proper use of one can lead to the other.

      • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

        Absolutely. Thank you for making it explicit.
        Sorry I didn’t make that clear. I took it for granted.

        My concern is a sort of ‘naive empiricism’ I have often observed in discussions where an objection is taken seriously when it’s merely a smoke-screen for some deeper issue (of which, the objector is often in denial).

  • Nermal146

    I can’t imagine giving up my Catholic Faith ever again. On my trip home to Catholicism, I found the Eucharist is the most important thing in my life now. How could I give that up? That’s what I’d ask; “how can you give up the Eucharist?”

  • Suzy

    I wonder whether leaving isn’t actually a positive thing for some people, in the same way that only by leaving home did the prodigal son find his way truly back to his father. How helpful is it for people to stay while not believing what the Church teaches and receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. Would it not be better to be honest about what they believe and ultimately hunger for the sacraments again and return with their whole heart?

    • Mandy

      This is what I hope ultimately happens to me. Life is a journey and if the mercy And hope I feel at my new church helps me face each new day, one day at a time, maybe God wants that for me right now? Maybe he wants me to feel free from the Catholic guilt and anger I feel? I know God is there for me, I will keep praying and hope he leads me. All I can see right now is a childless life, living alone and dying alone and never following the rules well enough to get to heaven.

      • CDville

        Please read Consoling the Heart of Jesus, or about St Therese of Lisieux or St Faustina and the Divine Mercy. We failed at following the rules; that’s why we have Jesus. In the crucifixion of God on the cross the rules are fulfilled and we can depend on His mercy. There will always be Pharisees who will tell you you are not good enough, but Jesus loves you as you are and can make you good enough as He washes you in the blood and water that pours from His side, even though it takes a lifetime of scrubbing, plus purgatory. Say yes to Him and He will do it.

  • Mandy

    I am leaving the church because I feel so alone, guilty, hopeless with no where to turn. I married a Catholic man who abused me and I’m infertile. I was strong enough to leave this man although I want to go back, although I love him. I’ll never be good enough for the church, nothing I do is acceptable and I feel abandoned completely. I’m beyond depressed and I can’t appreciate what is happening at church, I kind of zone out. I feel like there is no hope for a sinful, divorced, infertile woman in the Catholic Church. I gave my faith my all growing up but still always felt guilty, I stayed 8 years in my marriage so I would be good enough and I talked to many priests who didn’t know how to counsel me about my situation. i just…give up. I’ve gone to confession, talked to Catholic friends, prayed…but I still can’t save my Catholic faith or myself.

    • Guy McClung

      Mandy-I am praying for you and I am asking everyone who reads this to pray for you. Yoiu may want to read the poem THE HOUND OF HEAVEN. God bless you and keep you and always hold you secure and safe in the palm of His hand.

  • Guy McClung

    One parent to his children: “God bless you and keep you and always hold you safe in the palm of HIs hand.” These children know there is and always will be a safe place where they are known and loved. Guy Mcclung, San Antonio

  • Angel

    This Religion is useless. It is not of Jesus. The people Themselves are His Church. Not this useless organization. Catholics are taught to pray to the Dead. To pray to Angels and to a “Virgin” Mary. The Mary of the bible Knew Joseph. They give the title of Mediator to guys because they went to College. The Pope today prays to Allah, a fictional god with Muslims. Leave this religion in Jesus
    Mighty name.

  • Paul Fishman

    In America, the Roman Catholic Church has WAY too much sensuality and Gay Clergy in extreme harmful excess unto physical and spiritual death. You must NOW leave the Catholic Church in America at once BUT… Do NOT forsake the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to lead you where HE wants you to go to find holiness and peace of mind. Go to a wilderness place of solutide and rest alone with the Lord. You will have to find a good spirit filled bible believing church that correctly teaches the Word of God and walks in the Holy Love of Christ.